UK Spells out Arms Pact

By Boese, Wade | Arms Control Today, April 2005 | Go to article overview

UK Spells out Arms Pact


Boese, Wade, Arms Control Today


British Foreign Minister Jack Straw set out guidelines March 15 for a global treaty on conventional arms sales that London plans to promote this year. The initiative comes at a time when the European Union is wrestling with whether to waive arms sales restrictions on China.

Speaking at a London event hosted by the nongovernmental organization Saferworld, Straw said that the international community has addressed biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons but has neglected conventional arms such as machine guns, tanks, and combat aircraft. He argued this "gap" must be filled because conventional arms "per item are plainly less lethal than a nuclear or chemical bomb, but which account today for far more misery and destruction across the world."

London is not seeking to outlaw trade in conventional arms. Instead, the proposed treaty, which Straw first broached last September, would establish legally binding global standards for acceptable weapons exports. (see ACT, November 2004.)

Unacceptable arms deals would be those that might spark regional aggression or tension, end up in terrorist hands, or lead to human rights abuses, he explained. Criteria for judging sales should be derived from "certain basic standards of behavior and policy" enshrined in the UN Charter, the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and other international law, Straw stated.

Governments subscribing to the treaty ideally would be obligated to impose criminal penalties on treaty violations by their citizens and companies, Straw said. He also maintained that the treaty's effectiveness would rest on governments informing each other of their denials of potential exports. The 34 members of the voluntary Wassenaar Arrangement exchange information on their export denials of dual-use goods and technologies, which have both civilian and military applications, but they do not notify each other of their conventional arms export denials.

"Without enforceability mechanisms and information sharing, a treaty would risk being one simply on paper, not in fact," Straw warned.

However, Straw tempered expectations for fast results, describing British efforts as the beginning of a "long process."

The British arms trade treaty push coincides with a debate within the 25-member EU, which includes the United Kingdom, about lifting a 1989 arms embargo on China.

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